Summer time in Portland really can’t be beat. For a few short months the infamous rain showers (usually) take a vacation, letting the sun shine hot and bright and opening up a whole new set of opportunities for Portlanders to get wet! This city is surrounded in every direction by beautiful water features — endlessly flowing rivers and waterfalls, serene lakes and even the ocean are all easily accessible to the city and they are just waiting to be enjoyed. While the shopping, dining and drinking in Portland shouldn’t be overlooked, make sure you set aside some time in your visit to enjoy some of the natural places that make the Pacific Northwest such a wonderful place to be!
With the official start of summer just days away, here are a few ideas of water-focused excursions that are sure to cool you off on a hot summer day in and around the Rose City.
The drive to the Pacific Ocean is only one and a half hours from Portland, making a day on the beach an easy trip from the Fulton House. Cannon Beach is a popular tourist destination where you can find easily accessible beaches and lots of shops and restaurants. Haystack rock is Cannon Beach’s iconic monolith, (giant rock) that harbors tide pools teeming with sea life. This is a popular spot so if crowds aren’t your cup of tea, you might opt to head either north or south to a few other less crowded beach destinations.
Ecola State Park lies just north of Cannon Beach off highway 101. The views of the coast from this park are breathtaking and always changing so a trip up here never gets old. There are several trails to take within the park that lead to secluded beaches and scenic viewpoints. The beaches are ideal for walking, with compacted sand, tons of rocks, shells, driftwood, tide pools, sea creatures and sea birds to discover –You may even spot a bald eagle or even a whales from one of the lookouts. Although the water stays pretty cold year round, many people find its briskness refreshing on a hot summer day! There are several picnic areas with barbecues, as well as restrooms available for day use. And if you feel like you just can’t go all the way to the coast without seeing the landmark Haystack Rock, you’re in luck! Because the view of Haystack and “the needles” from Ecola State really Park can’t be beat.
Just 10 miles south of Cannon Beach on highway 101 lies a hidden gem of a beach: Oswald West State Park. A short hike through lush rainforest leads you to half-moon shaped Short Sands Beach- a secluded spot where locals come to surf, windsurf, boogie board and swim in the ocean (most people choose to don wetsuits, it’s cold!) Oswald West State Park encompasses 2,474 acres with majestic views of Cape Falcon, Neahkahnie Mountain, Arch Cape and Smuggler’s Cove, so you can choose to head straight for the beach or pick a trail, each provides breathtaking coastal views.
If you’re up for a bit of an adventure and you don’t mind the drive, point the car towards Mt. Hood and head up to Lost Lake. Sitting 3,100 feet up on the slopes of Mt. Hood, Lost Lake is an ideal introduction to the Oregon outdoors. There’s an easy loop hike that takes you through ancient forests and wetlands and lots of places to dip your feet in to the 175 feet of icy blue (average water temperatures in the summer are around 65 degrees). Rowboats and canoes can be rented at the lodge and there are several excellent swimming spots along the lakeshore. The view of Mt. Hood’s northwest face is perhaps the crowning glory of this spot. You don’t want to miss it.
If you’re looking for a place to catch some fish, head out the Columbia Gorge to Benson Lake. The lake is stocked with trout, largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish and bullhead and has good bank access. There is no boat ramp but fishers are encouraged to float in tubes and rafts. Take I-84 E to exit 30 just before Multnomah Falls but be sure you read the Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations before you go.
FLOATING! A favorite summertime activity in Portland is to float down one of the regions many rivers. Think amusement park “Lazy River” rather than class 5 rapids. The Sandy and Clackamas rivers are ideal for summer floats, the former perhaps a little warmer than the latter. There really isn’t much that’s better than gliding merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, gently down the stream with a cold drink and your closest friends and loved ones beside you. You can dunk in the water if you get too hot, and there are several spots along each route to stop and swim or rest on the shore if you so desire. To float the Clackamas River you will need to bring your own innertubes (which can be bought several stores in Portland. We recommend individual tubes or the double ones with an inflatable cooler in the middle), snacks and beverages and your group will need two vehicles. Drive to Carver Park and leave one vehicle in the parking lot, then take your crew and all your gear to Barton Park and launch your rafts from there. You’ll end up floating about five miles, which usually takes about 3-4 hours with a few short stops. There are a few sections of gentle rapids, nothing scary or dangerous- just fun! A word of warning though, this section of the river is pretty popular so be prepared to join the crowd of merry floaters!
No need to venture far from the Fulton House B&B if you’re itching to get out on the water- the beautiful Willamette River is just a couple blocks from our door! You can rent kayaks or the newly popular stand up paddle boards (SUP) from Portland Kayak Company which is a short 4 block walk from the B&B, then roll your vessel another block to Willamette Park’s boat launch. From here you can paddle south towards Sellwood and check out the funky houseboats on the east side of the river or you can head north and take a loop around Ross Island. The island is uninhabited and is owned by Ross Island Sand and Gravel, which mined the area extensively from 1926-2001. You can paddle right up to the processing plant which sits on the shores of Ross Island Lagoon on the island’s east side. An occasional barge comes through, but action at the plant is pretty minimal these days. As you round the northern tip of the island, you get a pretty stellar view of Portland’s skyline and the bridges that connect the east and west sides. Boats are rented by the hour or the day at very reasonable prices and the Fulton Pub is only a block away once you get back from your trip!
For a “two rivers for the price of one” experience (actually, it’s free!) head up through North Portland to Kelley Point Park where the Willamette empties into the Columbia River. While it’s not quite as picturesque as some of the other river spots I’ve highlighted in this post, Kelly Point Park is a charming spot for an afternoon stroll or a picnic. You can choose to wander wooded trails or follow the paved paths. There’s a sandy beach by the river where you can take a dip or just walk, a big rolling lawn for picnics, games or napping, and blackberry bushes galore! Time it right and bring a few bags or Tupperware containers and you could be dining on the most delicious fresh berries you’ve ever tasted. The best part of this park is it’s so close to the city center so you don’t have to spend hours in your car to get there!
Multnomah Falls is a ubiquitous tourist landmark and it’s a sight to see for sure. Multnomah Falls is Oregon’s tallest waterfall and if you’re going to make a trip into the gorge you really have to stop and visit. You can simply view the falls from the bottom or you can hike the 2.6 miles (roundtrip) to the top and back. If you’re quick you can do it in a bout 90 minutes. It’s a lovely hike with several side trails you can take to other equally stunning waterfalls, but be prepared for crowds.
A little further east from Multnomah Falls off the Historic Columbia River Highway is another great spot for a waterfall tour. Start by following the Horsetail Falls Trail, pass through a chamber behind Ponytail Falls, and then continue on Oneonta Gorge Trail to see Oneonta Gorge, Oneonta Falls and Triple Falls. You won’t get to swim here but you can enjoy the refreshing mists and the shade that the gorge provides. This is also a popular area, so be prepared to share the trail with others.
If you’re lucky enough to miss out on that one kind of water Portland is (in)famous for (you know, the kind that comes from the sky), make sure you check out some of the other fabulous water features this amazing region provides. Be safe and have fun, the opportunities abound!